If your first impression of Ryan Adams’ new self-titled album is that it sounds more like Bryan Adams than usual, you’re not alone: the younger, hipper Adams has taken to covering Bryan’s “Run To You” on his current tour, even co-opting the font from the cover of the 1984 monstrosity Reckless for his new record. It’s tempting to presume that this is a middle finger to critics and/or his ornery fanbase, but Ryan has actually acknowledged a debt of gratitude to the ’80s soft-rock superstar on more than one occasion, so this is probably more of a genuine full-circle situation. Ryan didn’t whip out any covers on Tuesday night at the Riverside, but he reminded us that there has always been a sizable helping of ’80s cheese in his music, and maybe it’s about time he fully embraced it.
Radio-ready rock doesn’t seem likely to stir up a fervent cult following like Adams’, but it’s impossible to get a sense of the energy of a Ryan Adams live show from his relatively tame records. Adams has a storied history of battling hecklers at shows, which has served to encourage animosity as well as devotion from his audience, but the back-and-forth at this show was almost entirely good-natured and often hilarious. It’s not as though Adams pulled punches, but he seemed comfortable with the fact that his banter is as much the reason people come to see him as his music. Commentary about a particularly zealous-looking security guard led to an improvised “ballad of the security man from Milwaukee,” which the band managed to keep up with for a few riotous minutes. The audience didn’t hesitate to yell requests fruitlessly throughout the show, prompting Adams to relate the infamous story of having to kick out an intoxicated fan who kept calling for “Summer Of ’69.” He took all the yelling in stride, but wasn’t at all interested in granting any wishes, explaining, “It’s well established that I do whatever the fuck I want, all the time.”
Fans expecting the kind of loose, folk-rock interplay of The Cardinals (Adams’ backing band until 2009) may have had a bone to pick—one fan even had the gall to yell out “The Cardinals were better!” towards the end of the show, but rather than get up in arms, Adams only replied, “Maybe to you, man.” While this new band isn’t going to wow anyone with instrumental prowess, the songs don’t require any heroics. Although Adams’ guitar was often frustratingly low in the mix, his voice rang out clearly, ultimately captivating the crowd with an impressive dynamic range. The set was fairly heavy on somewhat interchangeable new material, but it pulled from the full spectrum of Adams’ lengthy career—even Whiskeytown nugget “Yesterday’s News” made an appearance. The musical highlight of the show by far was the combination of the gorgeous “Oh My Sweet Carolina” followed by the heartfelt but blistering “I See Monsters.”
In the end, The Cardinals weren’t really missed by most. Adams was gushing with gratitude by the end of the show, and despite a few vulgar interchanges, pretty classy in response to any audience attacks. The crowd, in turn, took it pretty easy on him, particularly given Milwaukee’s rowdy reputation of late. Adams basically proved that whatever bunch of musicians he might have backing him up, he is—and always has been—enough to carry the show on his own.